Angry Robot

An Epic Review of Epic’s Newest

Everything had “weight”: the characters, the movements, the voices, the battles, and the cut scenes – it made you feel like everything you did was important. When you took cover behind a wall, it didn’t “let” you hide behind it, you took the cover and the cover be damned if it didn’t like it. It was a truly visceral experience.

That was, right up until the end of Act IV.

Act IV ends with Marcus Fenix and pals being chased from his father’s mansion by a 40-foot living tank. It’s awesome.

Act V starts with Marcus Fenix and pals hopping on a train that’s carrying a bomb into the heart of Locust land to blow them to itty bitty bits. It’s awes… WTF?

No, I didn’t leave anything out, that’s how it goes. The first thing I did was reload the previous chapter and played through the last part again, just to be sure I hadn’t missed something. I hadn’t. There was no mention of a bomb and certainly no reason for us to be getting on a train that carried one. No mention of the 40-foot Brumak who, by now, I was starting to feel sorry for leaving behind. Poor guy’s probably just misunderstood; I can’t imagine he got many dates in school, and now we’re leaving him out of the rest of the script? I don’t blame him for chasing after Marcus and pals. The big lug just wanted to toss around the ol’ pig skin guys… anyway, I digress.

So, after determining that Epic had just decided that skipping a whack of exposition was a good idea, I played through Act V. Completing the act took a little less time than opening the game’s packaging, but I have to admit, I wasn’t racing when I opened the box. Don’t get me wrong, the train was good fun, but the act was decidedly incomplete, and far too short.

When all was said and done, Gears of War amounted to an amazing experience, and one that I recommended to many people, and still recommend to this day. But, there were so many unanswered questions: Why Marcus? Why did you get on that bomb-y train? How did you even know it was there? What about poor Bill? The Brumak… his name is Bill now. What’s your story? Why are you so angry? Who hurt you? Do you need a hug? These questions burned within me, haunting my dreams and tormenting my waking hours; the Answers lost in the unfathomable depths of the space between Acts IV and V.

Lost, until now.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Answers have arrived, and their bearer goes by the name of Gears of War for Windows. But, more on the Answers in a minute! To do this new edition justice I must start at the beginning.

My first experience with this new edition was to put it simple terms, excellent.

If you get a chance to play a game on one of these:

HP Blackbird

(an HP Blackbird) hooked up to a 30” widescreen LCD monitor, you do it – you do it like your life depends on it.

I always liked the GoW multiplayer; it was the first multiplayer I truly enjoyed. So when I got to sit down with some MP action right off the bat, I was pretty excited. Everything was just as I had hoped. The control is still tight, and the action just a fast paced. Graphically, the detail is all still there – even more so when you crank that resolution up. And the atmosphere has not suffered in the transition from console to PC. Some ports just feel like cheap knock-offs on the new system, but not Gears. It’s a solid translation.

The new King of the Hill is a welcome addition to the multiplayer game modes, and it’s really a lot of fun. I also had a chance to try out the new maps, and each one is a good addition to the game – creative, detailed, gritty, Gears-worthy. Sadly, my multiplayer experience was short lived – an evening can pass so quickly. Fortunately, this led me to my second experience with the new edition: Single player campaign.

First off, I played almost the entire game with a wired 360 controller. I’m a mouse and keyboard guy through and through, but I just couldn’t quite get the hang of it with this game. I kept wanting to hit that A button to slam up against a crumbling wall, and the space bar just wasn’t cutting it. AND there’s no rumble in my keyboard! So, the controller won out.

As for the game itself, it was like coming back after a vacation: everything was where I left it and it felt like home. My grit was there in full force. My good buddies Marcus and pals were still ready to kick ass and take names. And it all still felt important. As I made my way through the game, however, I could feel that the guys had a secret they weren’t telling. Marcus, did you have a party while I was on vacation? The place looks the same, but something feels different. I’m keeping my eye on you. And it’s a good thing I did, because lo’ and behold, the boys did have a secret: Gears of War “The Lost Chapters.”

The campaign is the same, right up until the end of Act IV.

Act IV ends with Marcus Fenix and pals being chased from his father’s mansion by Bill, the 40-foot living tank. It’s still awesome.

Act V starts with Marcus Fenix and pals being chased by Bill, but now through the war-torn town of Timgad. Bill, apparently, is persistent in his desire for a little game of pickup, but the boys are having none of it. It’s awesome.

Epic has inserted all of the chapters and exposition necessary to fill the gaping hole that was the space between Acts IV and V. The new chapters feel like they should have been there from the start, and fit in seamlessly. We’re treated to some of the most action-packed battles of the game, and some great new environments. There’s a perfect mix of locales: indoor and outdoor, close quarters and wide open spaces. For those of you who played the original, there are also more COG tags to find. And the new cut scenes provide the answers to all of the questions that have tormented me for a year. I can’t reveal the Answers here (you’ll have to play it to get them!), but I will say one thing: Bill does not want a hug – he may need one – but he does not want one… don’t try… he’ll likely kill you.

Bill is also very upset that the boys don’t want to hang out with him, and in the end you’re forced to fight the 40-foot monstrosity that is Bill the Brumak. It’s a great fight, and I think everyone is going to really dig it. It’s just so BIG, in such a wide open space, you really the sense that you’re doing battle with the biggest kid on the block and there’s a really good chance he’s going to kick your ass. Fun times!

Once you’ve completed the new levels, the game picks up at the old start of Act V, with one more slight change: it all makes sense now. Now, I support Marcus’ decision to jump on the bomb-train – I love this plan! I’m excited to be a part of it!

And when it’s all said and done Gears of War for Windows amounts to an amazing, and now complete, experience, that I highly recommend. Thank you for taking the time to provide us with the Answers, Epic, it’s appreciated.



Achievements for the Masses: We’re looking at most of the same as for the Xbox 360 version, minus “A Series of Tubes,” but with an added “Not so Serious” for killing 10k people in any kind of match, and a secret one that you’ll pick up just playing through the campaign.

Level Editor: I wanted to touch on this for those creative-types out there. In case you’re unaware, the newest version of the Unreal Editor is included on the game disc, and you can now create your own multiplayer maps for Gears. It took some forum searching, however, to figure out how to access the editor. It requires creating a new shortcut to the game’s executable with a target that looks like this:

“X:\Path to game directory\Gears of War\Binaries\WarGame-G4WLive.exe” editor

Apparently the editor is built into the game’s main executable and just needs that “editor” switch to make it start up instead of the game. Neato!

In any case, the editor itself looks to be super full-featured and should allow users to create some great new maps. Myself, I’m a total gimp at that kinda stuff, and the editor scared the crap outta me, so I bolted. I’d rather take on Bill with a pen knife.

Rock Band…. Denied!

I just saw this unfortunate tidbit over on Shacknews. Two words: Effing. Shafted. Not. Happy. Makes a body want to cry… or throw things…

Oh well, the Mass Effect and Creed releases are imminent, so I guess we’ll all still have something to play.

Piñatas sure know how to party…

Right off the bat we’re treated to the flashy and energetic opening of the show, which has been modified a little to fit the game. The menus that follow the visual theme set out by the original VP and are all well organized and easy to follow. In the game setup, there are number of options for game type (offline, online) and length; including the usually absent “short” which you can play through in 10-20 minutes…. Nice! There is also a nice new option called “keep it close” which will adjust the scoring to do just that. This is, of course, great for the parents playing with their kids – Now little Timmy won’t always have the upper hand.

The game itself is broken into rounds that start with a foot-race which is followed by a number of Challenge games. The race portion is fast-paced, with characters collecting power-ups and items to use against their opponents as they vie for that coveted first place. Tip: if some jerk other player covers the track in honey, butterfly wings are the solution. Your position in the race determines how many bonus points you’ll receive after each Challenge game. This is where I would guess the game does most of its “keeping it close” since they send out Mr. Galagoogoo to dole out the points and we all know how unpredictable he can be.

The Challenge games themselves are creative, and very easy to pick up (as they should be). They range from simply running around collecting candies (from a giant candy-tossing ball…. Odd) to pin the tail on the Zumbug (using what I can only imagine are high-powered tail launching rifles – complete with scope!). Each game runs for about a minute and then you’re onto the next Challenge game or race. Honestly, I found the pacing was perfect for this type of game. I want my party games to pop; I don’t want to sit through boring nonsense between rounds (Fuzion Frenzy 2… grrr…), spending more time out of the games than in them.

Overall, I think Krome Studios really hit the mark with Viva Piñata: Party Animals. From the flashy graphics and amusing animations, to the over-the-top voice acting and fantastic soundtrack, to the creative Challenge games and furious foot-races, VP Party Animals is a premier party game that I highly recommend for everyone.


Oh, and I have to send out some props to Xbox for their choice of venue for this event. It was at Hernando’s on Wellington St. in Toronto, and it couldn’t have been a better fit for the game. Nachos, quesadillas, bright and colourful décor, friendly staff, and a fantastic party game equals a great time!

GH III: Soundtrack CD and the DLC Booya!

Just saw this over on Kotaku and I am totally stoked. Loving the songs themselves? Not so much (I don’t recognize any of the three tracks offered). Loving the idea of giving away DLC tracks with the sountrack CD? Abso-freakin’-lutely. I had a similar thought myself back when I first heard that Harmonix would be offering complete albums as DLC for Rock Band. How awesome would it be to pick up the new “insert name of band here” album, and along with it get the entire album as playable content for RB/GH3? Sure, there’d be a premium price for the DLC version, but that’s nothing new; special editions for new CDs abound and we gladly pay more for an extra live track or two. Now, instead of a live track I get to play along with the band? Count me in.

I’ve always been a fan of this kind of “trans-media” entertainment, and this announcement gives me hope for bigger and better things to come.

Angry Robot How To: Kickass Gamerscores

Yes, it’s true; I have fallen for Microsoft’s new little marketing strategy. I am head over heels in love with these little digital merit badges, and I’m not ashamed to say it. There are few things I enjoy more than seeing that “achievement unlocked” message pop up while I’m gaming. In fact, I like seeing it so much I will actively seek out games in which I’m sure I can get most or all of the available achievements. Some people lovingly call this “achievement whoring.” I call it “selling my soul for a few meaningless virtual trophies, whose only real effect is to show the world how nerdy I truly am,” and I want to thank the person who came up with this idea. I have completed more games since the launch of the 360 than I had in all the years preceding its launch combined.

And I have achievements to thank.

Before achievements? I dropped those half-finished games without a second thought. Now? I find it nearly impossible to put down a game, knowing that if I just press on a little further I’m going to nab myself a cool 100 points. It’s really quite satisfying to look at my list of played games and see a nice even 1,000 points. You know, some of those 1,000 pointers are games I would never have played in the first place if there were no achievements –- and there are some real gems in there if you go at it with an open mind. I’ve even gone back and replayed some of these (Surf’s Up for one… boo-ya!) just because they were a whole lotta fun to play. There’s nothing better than going through a game that’s a load of fun and coming out the other side with a big stack of ‘chievies (that’s my new word for today).

It has been brought to my attention that some people are feeling like their Gamerscore is a little underdeveloped. Myself, I feel that I’ve cultivated a nice, well-rounded Gamerscore; one that I can take a little nerdy pride in, and maybe I can help some of you along in your quest for a more fulfilling score. All you have to do is follow my easy 12 step program!

Step One: Drop that silly gamer pride and resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to be playing some games that will be considered “uncool” by your peers. Just remember, your peers are nerds too, and sucks to their assmar if they have a problem.

Step Two: Play King Kong straight through. One of the first games for the system, one of the easiest 1k you’ll get and it’ll take you less than a day. It’s a good warm-up, and with that nice thousand point base, you’re off to a great start!

Step Three: Visit a site like Achieve360Points and browse through the achievement lists. Look for games with a short list of achievements, and if the site lists them, a low difficulty rating. Pick one that looks interesting, and get to playing. Tip: Games based on films are usually a good place to start.

Steps Four through Twelve: Have fun! The key is to pick games you’re likely to enjoy, because that’s the whole point of gaming. If you find you’ve picked a game and it just feels like you’re grinding your way through just for the ‘chievies, give it up. Your response to the statement “I can’t believe you played all the way through that game” should never be: “I really can’t believe it myself… I feel kinda dirty… but I got these shiny achievement things at least! Right? Guys? Where’re you going? Guys!?”

That’s just the wrong way to be.

When someone says to me: “TMNT? Seriously? WTF, man?”
I say: “Solid graphics, concise story and damn if it isn’t a blast running around a 3D obstacle course as a bipedal turtle!”

There you have it. Four Twelve easy steps and you’re on your way to a healthier, more robust Gamerscore. I really can’t stress the having fun part enough though. I got myself some of those 2K6 sports game ‘chievies (yeah, that word actually sucks, so, I’m going to stop using it now), and honestly, it felt a little bit like dying at the time.

Well, my profile is done migrating, and I’m pretty much done here for now anyway, so before I go, here are a couple games to get you started:

GigerHR’s Happy Fun-Time Easy Achievement List:
Surf’s Up – maybe I’m biased ‘cause I loved the movie, but this was great fun
TMNT – see above
Lego Star Wars II – yes, I’m 60pts short, but it’s a kickass game nonetheless
Need For Speed Most Wanted – beat the game, get 1k points, and it’s not a “kid’s game”
Viva Piñata – fun, relaxed pace and only heartless evil demons don’t love the Galagoogoo!

Finish the Fight… For Now…

…this single player was brutal. I went in with low expectations, and I was not disappointed. The game play/control was good, I’ll give it that. But A.I.? Level design? Storytelling? Two words: Phoned in. All those things aside, though, it’s the ending that irks me the most. Halo 2 has immortalized itself for me as the only game to give Soul Reaver a run for its money for the worst cop-out-ending-to-make-you-buy-the-next-game ever. Only one thing keeps it out of the top spot: Soul Reaver’s ending actually said “to be continued…”

Is it just me, or are cliff-hanger endings the worst media creation ever? Honestly, there was nothing good about the entire summer we had to endure to find out what would happen next when Picard was turned into Locutus – It was probably the worst summer holiday ever. And nowadays, this torturous practice is commonplace in television; I think every show I watch ended their respective seasons with a “to be continued…” Film is notorious for throwing in an after the credits hook to remind you that, yes, there will be a sequel, and yes, you will pay them to see it. But our videogames, they’re immune to these underhanded marketing ploys, right? No sir, they are not.




Why can’t a game be strong enough on its own that you WANT to buy the next one ‘cause the last one was just so much fun to play? Instead we’re forced to buy the next game to find out how the story ends. Halo 2 is a prime example: it didn’t need to be Empire Strikes Back’d, there’s just not all that deep of a story there. I understand that there are a slew of novels that really delve into the ever expanding “Halo mythos,” but a game shouldn’t need the support of external materials to give us a complete story. In the context of the game, the story is generic, underdeveloped and intentionally truncated. This last move is just to make sure that those of us who aren’t plugged into the H2 multiplayer machine will still buy our copies.

And that’s what frustrates me the most. There are plenty of game series out there that get by without the cliff-hanger and keep us coming back – The Legend of Zelda, Ghost Recon/Rainbow Six, Resident Evil, just to get the list started. You don’t rush out and get the next game in these series’ because you need to know what happens next – that was taken care of in the LAST game! You rush out to grab these games because the last one rocked, and you’re hoping the next one does too.

If my decision whether or not to play Halo 3 was based solely on how much H2’s single player “rocked,” I guarantee it wouldn’t see the inside of my Xbox 360… I doubt I’d even pick up the box to read the back. Sadly, however, their marketing ploy has grabbed me by the nostrils and is now leading me where it wants me to go. I mean, how can I not play H3? I can’t just assume that Master Chief is going to go out there and kick some ass – maybe take a few names – and save the day. I have to play it to find out for sure (and no, I can’t just read about what happens somewhere else – everyone knows that’s just not the same), and that means THEY win. I hate it when they win… Fie!

Fortunately, rumour has it that Bungie has beefed up the single player for round three – I can only hope. But I won’t be at all surprised if my Halo 3 experience ends with the image of Master Chief standing on some rocky outcrop, facing a whole mess o’ the Covenant, and saying, “Okay then! NOW I’m going to finish the fight. And this time, I mean it!”